Monday, November 22, 2010

How to lie with fake arguments

In his latest NYT column, Ross Douthat weighs in on Ireland's problems, suggesting that Ireland's rapid rise and even more rapid crash, culminating in Sunday's acceptance of a European Union bailout, can be ascribed to three contributing factors: free-market capitalism, secularism, and European integration.

Free-market capitalism, Douthat argues, means that "debt and ruin always shadow prosperity and growth." Secularism breeds "decadence as well as liberation." One might think that debt, decadence and ruin represent a sufficient characterization of Ireland's current troubles. But no, "utopians of European integration... should learn the hardest lessons from the Irish story."

What are those lessons? First, "that the E.U. was expanded too hastily." Really? Which expansion are we talking about here? Certainly not Ireland's, a member since 1973. But what recent members have been so badly affected by Ireland's crisis that they would have been better off not joining? Douthat doesn't say.

The second lesson is that "a single currency couldn't accommodate such a wide diversity of nations." This is a plausible claim, and has been made by many others. (Actually, Douthat mis-specifies it: it is not the diversity of nations, but the diversity of economies that matters.) Still, I fail to see how this is a lesson that follows from Ireland's economic crisis. One might argue that crisis recovery in Ireland has been hampered by the absence of devaluation as a policy option. But the constraints imposed by eurozone membership did not cause the crisis; it is pretty clear, and Douthat acknowledges, that a massive construction boom was a key culprit instead.

It appears Douthat doesn't like the EU. That's fine, but it would help if his arguments against the organization were a little less contrived and disingenuous.

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